St. John’s

St. John’s: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Last updated: July 25, 2022

The capital of Newfoundland has a population of 100,000, double with the urban area. It is located on a peninsula stretching towards Europe. Logically it was one of the first cities created in Canada, firstly frequented by seasonal fishermen. Although it is rarely visited by tourists, the city offers some interesting sites to discover on a weekend.

01. Port

St. John’s ice-free harbour is the reason for the city’s existence. French fishermen were the first to take shelter here during their fishing season on the nearby fish banks. Later the English Navy turned it into a naval base. The decline in fishing caused the exodus of part of the population, oil exploration has since developed, reviving the economy.

02. Signal Hill

A natural stronghold, the hill occupies a dominant position over the port and its entrance via the Narrows. The hill has been fortified since the mid 17th century. It is a National Historic Site run by Parks Canada, where the cannon is fired at noon in the summer and other performances take place in season. A pleasant footpath leads to Signal Hill by climbing up the cliffside facing the sea.

03. Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower stands atop Signal Hill, its construction began in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the supposed arrival of John Cabot in 1497. A wireless radio station was installed there by Guglielmo Marconi. It was here that the first transatlantic signal reached him in 1901, then in 1920 the first voice was transmitted from Europe.

04. Fort Amherst

Opposite Signal Hill, across the Narrows to the harbour, are the remains of Fort Amherst. Originally built around 1770 by the British, it was strengthened during the Second World War for fear of attack by German submarines. Since 1810, three lighthouses have succeeded one another to guide ships into the harbour, which provides a safe haven all year round.

05. The Rooms

The Rooms is the provincial museum completed in 2004. Its architecture pays homage to the fishermen’s cabins built on the Newfoundland shoreline to process fish. The museum presents the history of the province and its artistic creation. It also collects documents that can serve as a basis for local research, such as genealogy.

06. Government House

Government House was built in 1831 for the Governor of Newfoundland, representing the British Crown. Until 1949, Newfoundland formed a separate dominion, remaining independent from Canada. It only joined the Canadian Confederation after a referendum with very close results. It is now the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor.

07. Colonial Building

From 1850 to 1959, the Newfoundland Legislature met in this building. As an exception to parliamentary practice, the majority sat on the left, where the heating was located. After holding the provincial archives until 2005, the building is being renovated to return it to its original splendour and to allow public access.

08. Cathedral

The Catholic Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was completed in 1855, its dominant position on the heights of the city irritated the Protestants at the time. In those days the clergy were mainly Irish and many of the building elements came from Ireland, such as the portico in front of the church, built with stones transported from Dublin.

09. St. Thomas Church

The Anglican Church of St. Thomas is a fine example of a large wooden building. The construction dates from 1836 and was spared from the fires that destroyed Saint John’s in 1846 and 1892. However, a violent storm moved the building about 15 centimetres. On several instances the nave was lengthened to accommodate more worshippers.

10. Streets of colourful houses

The first charm of a visit to Saint John’s comes from its steep streets, lined with houses painted in different colours and heading down to the harbour, the centre of the city’s activity. Brightly painted board houses, from the simplest of structures, no more than a wooden rectangle, to more elaborate decorations depending on the builder’s means.

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